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I’m surprised that it took me this long to check out Samuel P. Taylor State Park. On trips to Point Reyes and elsewhere in Marin County, I would often pass signs for it and wonder if it’s worth a hike.


It is. On a recent day that was not too hot but not too cold, I headed up to Barnabe Peak for a six-plus-mile hike that was a true joy. The park is a small one, and for awhile, it was headed toward closure, like lots of state parks in CA. But the powers that be got creative and hiked the entrance fee at nearby Muir Woods. Part of that added revenue is helping the National Park Service to maintain this state park. Not forever, but the prospect of closure has forced all sorts of interesting options to emerge to take care of the park. My favorite was the proposal by the founder of Lagunitas Brewing Company to take over the park. I loved the potential recreational opportunities created by that partnership.

In any event, Samuel P. Taylor was a true 49er., i.e., a New Yorker who came West to get rich. He did, buying land along Lagunitas Creek and then opening the West Coast’s first paper mill.

He died about 120 years ago (his and his wife’s gravestones are prominently displayed), but the land stayed in his estate’s possession until the mid-1940s when California seized the land for back taxes. Thus, a state park.

It’s 2,700 acres, about a quarter of which are redwoods – smaller ones, but still lush and cool. We started our hike at Devil’s Gulch and went up to the peak, about 1,400 feet up and featuring truly panoramic views of the valley, the bay and Mount Tam. There’s a steep climb on the way up, but the bulk is shaded by either the redwoods or live oaks or Douglas firs. The climb ends into a vast grassy expanse of hillside that’s worth stopping to take in.

The park has another trail, on the northern side, called the Bolinas Ridge, which is an extended trail, about 10 miles long, and features a different vantage point. The park is tiny – it’s possible to drive on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard through northwest Marin, right past the town of Lagunitas, and miss it completely. But if you slow down, you’ll find numerous parking areas and campgrounds, either to hike into the park or just stop for a picnic.

Unpleasant side note:

See the stuff in this photo at left? Yup. There’s a lot of poison oak on this trail, and spring is a great time to really get close to it. After hiking nonstop for four years all over the Bay Area, I had been blissfully immune to the scratchy stuff. Not anymore. Darn. Any ideas for remedies out there?